Thursday, May 22, 2014

insta-faves 01: luminarja

for some of you, the title of this post is in a foreign language. let me explain.

there is a little social media site we call instagram, and if you appreciate art, photography, and beauty, it is the place to find it.

i am new to instagram, but upon joining i was immediately taken with the talent that abounds, some of it yet undiscovered by the larger world. such is the case with laura casey, or as she's known there, @luminarja.

(the "01" denotes that this is the beginning of a series, featuring my favorites to follow. i don't know how long it will be, but judging by the incredible work i keep finding, it could go on indefinitely).

laura is officially a reporter-researcher and unofficially an urban photographer living in brooklyn, new york. though i've actually known her since high school (as 17-year-olds we used to espouse about running a magazine together), i've only recently discovered that she has a secret instagram cult following and is posting some of the most beautiful art i've ever seen there.

it is so very good, i want everyone to know about it.

laura has graciously granted my request for an interview about her life on instagram, and to showcase some of her photographs here at avery street design. i'm honored and quite frankly a little giddy to be able to feature such lovely work on my little website.

asd: what compelled you to start taking photographs?

LC: Boredom and loneliness, to be honest. I went through a really rough time in 2013, including a breakup that left me reeling, and taking photos was something to fill my time, a way to see things more positively, and a way to connect with people.

asd: why did you start an instagram feed for them?

LC: I actually signed up for instagram in 2011 and barely remembered it existed until late 2012. I didn’t REALLY start using it (obsessively) until the fall of 2013.

asd: how did you gain a following there?

LC: I comment a lot. I try to tell people how much their work affects me, in the most genuine way I can (and yeah, that involves lots of emojis). But I didn’t start gaining a lot of followers, at least not so quickly, until I really developed some sort of style. This sounds cliché, but when things started feeling like “me,” people responded to that. I was more confident while being more consistent, in addition to having better photos. It feels like it’s really only been a couple of months since that’s happened. Or maybe yesterday. I just know I feel more “me” every day, which is awesome.

asd: what kind of a community have you found on instagram?

LC: It’s mostly people who share my aesthetic (fairly minimal, focused on pattern and color), and who are (hopefully) also funny and warm. Like attracts like, obviously. It’s also people whose personalities I enjoy. I will immediately unfollow someone I find cruel or insensitive, even if I like their photos in theory. The photos become unattractive to me. I try to interact only with those people, though I do thank just about everyone who comments positively on my photos.

asd: what are you looking for in a photograph?

LC: Beauty. Always beauty, even if there is humor, or even sadness. Elegance, happiness.

I try to take a lot of photos of bright things when it’s cold and grey (though I look for color all the time; never warm colors, though. I have some sort of internal aversion to them).

I like repetition a lot. I constantly think of one of the first lessons Mrs. Palmer, the art teacher I had in high school, gave us, in which she talked about how repetition in art solidifies a point and is some sort of universally appreciated thing. I can’t remember, actually, but I think a lot about repetition because of it!

asd: do you put much thought into what you are photographing?

LC: Not too much! I feel like the best photos are the ones where I just intuitively snap. Those are the ones where I (or more often, someone else) notices something I didn’t see at first. I’m really proud of those.

Like last night; the photo I took of the beautiful teenage boy on the insanely crowded shuttle bus: I got this serendipitous perfect framing of him in a designer shirt (Commes des Garçons Play) that had a Matt Groening [the guy who does The Simpsons] drawing on it of an intense crowd of people that says, “If we lived in a small town, we wouldn’t have cultural opportunities like this.” It was too perfect. I was on the bus, getting crushed and cursing humanity, and there was this kid wearing this shirt while we were all of five minutes away from an amazing museum I hadn’t been to since 2006 and a yoga studio I keep finding reasons not to go to. He moved out of the frame right after I took that.

asd: do you feel that the “like” button ever affects your sense of worth as an artist?

LC: I hate to say this, but yeah. I notice who likes things. It matters a lot to me when it’s someone whose photos I really admire, and/or who is a person I really like.  

Comments matter a LOT more, though, because someone has taken the time to articulate what they like, which means so so much. Occasionally, someone who doesn’t really comment or who doesn’t post a lot of photos will say something really super-nice about my photos being good or me being funny or nice and it’s so so wonderful! In general, people don’t just bust out with that kind of positivity in everyday life, which is really unfortunate.

LC: Also, I was so isolated for so long when I was sick (like 2007 until now!). I feel like it’s only the past few months in which I have reentered society on some level that could be perceived as normal. So I rely on this a LOT as both a creative outlet and a way to make connections that make me hopeful and happy about life. It truly amazes me and thrills me.

LC: Several people have told me (either in public comments or private text conversations) that they appreciate or are inspired by how I see things, my curiosity, my attention to detail, and that they like how positive I am. That’s HUGE to me. I haven’t ever thought of myself as a positive person, or that the details I notice would be interesting to anyone else in the world.

LC: Also, and this is the other huge thing for me besides realizing that everyone else doesn’t think I’m a failure: I’ve never ever before stuck with something until I got good(-ish) at it. Instagram and Pilates (!) are truly the only things that I’ve ever done long enough to see real improvement in and feel a real sense of accomplishment about. This has been truly life-changing for me. I’ve always been the kind of person who gives stuff up if I’m not perfect at it immediately (which means I quit everything, because who is great at anything when they first try it!?).

LC: I’ve never before felt like I had friends who have understood how much visual stuff means to me, except you (truly). Everyone else has always just seemed to think it was “cute” that I’m so picky about clothes and furniture and colors, etc. I am genuinely affected by those things; they make me happy and sad and comfortable and uncomfortable. The sense of feeling understood and like I’ve found kindred spirits is truly overwhelming. I am beyond grateful.

asd: what kind of camera do you use?

LC: Just an iPhone 5S as of 2014, and older iPhones before that, save for a few photos I uploaded from my computer from crappy old point-and-shoot digital cameras.

asd: is there an editing app that you use?

LC: Afterlight.

asd: do you use filters?

LC: I used to use them a lot, but now I pretty much just screw with the colors/contrast/brightness in Afterlight.

asd: are you trying to tell a story? if so, what is it?

LC: My original aim was just to create a visual journal of my everyday life, which was mostly stuff I found funny or odd, but it’s evolved to become a project where I actively seek out beauty and things that make me appreciate life.

asd: what have you learned about the world around you through photography?

LC: I think it’s mostly what I’ve learned about myself and other people: how it feels to accomplish something! How it feels to do something I truly love! How it feels to see things through the eyes of other people! How it feels to make connections with people who understand things that are important to you!

asd: when & where will your prints be available for purchase?

LC: HAHA. Um. When someone asks me? I don’t know.

asd: the city where you live, and some of the subjects of your photos, can be gritty. yet, your photos never feel dark and gloomy. they always feel joyful and hopeful, and often quite funny. is this intentional?

LC: Thank you! I’m so glad they come off that way. It’s definitely my intention. I try not to post photos when I’m sad unless they make me feel better and more hopeful.

asd: when i first started posting to instagram, i would stress over it for at least 15 minutes before hitting “share.” but when you and i were together, you just snapped something and posted it. it didn’t even look like you edited first. so, are you really confident, do you simply not care, or are you just really brave? :)

LC: You saw me posting a photo of people I love, and in that case, I almost never edit things (except maybe to crop it better). It doesn’t seem necessary! Also, the colors in your house are amazing and the light was really good. PURE LOVE. 

I find that the only things I deliberate about are the ones I like the least, which are often the ones people end up liking the most, which makes me wonder about my eye a little…?

I’m getting more confident, which is an awesome feeling! I do take things down right away sometimes, though (which is something I never did until people actually started seeing my photos).

asd: what is your advice to someone for improving their photography skills?

LC: Take as many photos as possible! Become obsessive. You eventually (hopefully?) develop an eye, a style. You begin to edit yourself. Maybe not in terms of how many photos you take, but in the sense that you see things in a more refined way. You look for things you never saw before you started seeing the world through a camera and inside a little square.

asd: do you find there is a pattern in the way you compose your shots?

LC: Generally off-center (literally and figuratively, ha). 

asd: what is your advice to someone new to instagram?

LC: Let strangers influence you and inspire you. 

// //

on a recent visit she made to chicago (read: deep in the 'burbs), laura and i drove past a farm stand with a mural of vegetables on the side of the barn. i've seen it hundreds of times on my daily commute and never thought twice. she said, "oh i totally need a picture of that." we had completely missed the opportunity but after she was back in nyc, i snapped a few and texted them to her. she posted one, and she was right. that farm stand was beautiful, decayed, vibrant (and accidentally hilarious) all at once. i am amazed at how keenly artists like laura see the world.

i'd love for you to find and follow laura on instagram. since the vegetable farm stand i've been looking at the things around me with new eyes. i see beauty in the pattern of old mini blinds or good design in a truck bumper. i know it's because of her. so thank you again, dear friend, for these photos, for this interview, for sharing a piece of yourself with others, and for letting me be a part of it.

{all photos copyright laura casey via @luminarja on instagram}

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